Durango man was severely injured.
By Mark Esper
Durango snowboarder Seth Campbell was still in the hospital Monday, Jan. 31, after surviving a horrific ride in an avalanche north of Silverton last Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 26.
And he realizes just how lucky he is to be alive.
Campbell, 35, recounted his experience Monday during a phone interview from his hospital bed.
It was late in the afternoon when Campbell and his friend Frank Guerin reached the summit of Anvil Mountain a few miles north of town.
“We had summited Anvil — kind of just for the sake of summitting it,” Campbell said.
“Then we moved down to a point above the Cement Fill slide.”
Campbell said he has been snowboarding for some 20 years. He and Guerin were quite aware of the avalanche danger, and were trying to move cautiously from one safe spot to the next.
“I was moving to the next safe spot when I triggered a slide,” Campbell said. He said the slide started “pretty much right at treeline.
“I tried to get to the side of it but I couldn’t, so I turned and got into a seated position and tried to ride it out,” he said. “I was dragged into a tree and basically ejected off the top of the tree, kind of. The tree came into sight for a real brief second, and I took it right on the ass.”
Campbell said he then found himself “to some extent back to the surface of the snow.
“I tried to fight for it as I was starting to be dragged under. I was fighting to stay on top. I can’t even fathom how fast I was going.”
Campbell figures he came to rest 600 to 800 feet later.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Campbell said. “It’s miraculous, man, that I ended up on top of the snow.”
He said Guerin soon reached him and realized that Campbell was very badly injured.
“I was bleeding severely,” Campbell said.
And with daylight dwindling and being in an area still facing a high risk of avalanche, Campbell figured he and Guerin were on their own and that he needed medical attention and fast.
“It was mostly the blood loss,” Campbell said. “It was dramatic enough that it required immediate action.
“I couldn’t expect search and rescue to expose themselves to the avalanche risk that had just become apparent,” Campbell said. “It was unacceptable to have them be exposed to that risk.”
And Campbell said he realized his condition was so serious he might not be able to wait for rescuers to make it up to where he was at, which he estimated was 1,500 feet above the highway.
“I managed to snowboard to the highway, where Silverton Ambulance met me and took me to the top of the pass for the flight to Durango,” Campbell said.
A Tri-State CareFlight helicopter from Montrose transported Campbell to Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango.
Campbell suffered a severe laceration on his lower back and the tip of his tailbone had to be removed.
“Luckily, I didn’t get skewered,” Campbell said. “They didn’t have to take out any branches.”
San Juan County Undersheriff Kris Burns said Guerin helped Campbell reach the highway, covering a distance of about a half mile.
“He couldn’t have done it alone. His friend saved his life,” Burns said. “If we’d had to go in and get him the delay would probably have been fatal.”
She said search and rescue could have provided a fast response, “but it takes a lot of time to get in and get a victim out” of that area.
Colorado Department of Transportation personnel closed U.S. 550 at Red Mountain Pass for about 45 minutes to allow the helicopter to evacuate Campbell.
Burns credited Silverton Ambulance for a quick response and thanked San Juan County Search and Rescue personnel for being on standby to help out.
Campbell was hoping to get out of the hospital soon, and he was quite aware of what a close call he just went through.
“I just joined a very short list of people,” he said.